Saturday, 17 September 2011

Day 4 - Chambly to Paris, Paris to Lamballe, Lamballe to Ploeuc sur Lie

I'm beginning to bore myself now, so God knows I must be boring you. There will, therefore, be very little in this post about routes and the like, and more on reflections.

This was a day of three parts for me - bike, train, bike. Bike Part 1 was riding from Chambly into the centre of Paris. It turned out to be nearly 50 km. To summarise, first part much easier than expected, second part much tougher. Much tougher. I worked out at one point I was trying to do four things simultaneously: navigate, keep an eye on the road surfaces (which weren't up to the usual French standard, perhaps unsurprisingly), ride deliberately defensively to minimise the chances of getting knocked off by the bonkers Parisian drivers, and keep a group of mixed abilities together. My little brain was frazzled by the time we reached Arc de Triomphe. And then, having spent all morning successfully stopping any incidents occurring, what do my three fellow riders decide to do? Ride a lap of the Arc de Triomphe / Place de Charles de Gaulle (whichever is the more accurate), that's all. It's hard enough to drive round it - and I've done that several times - but cycle with panniers? Bonkers. This was one particular test of macho-dom that I didn't feel compelled to join in, much like, for example, how many pints of beer you can drink in 20 minutes. It proves nothing other than you're an idiot.

So I calmly walked round to the top of the Champs Elysee, for obligatory further photo-opportunities. We did have one casualty of the Arc madness - Dylan's sunglasses, which came off his head half way round and were soon in a squillion pieces, crushed by a hundred tyres. Personally, I still think they had a lucky escape (the riders not the sunglasses that is).

My train left Paris a couple of hours before the others left on Eurostar, so we rode down the Champs Elysee, crossing the Place de la Concorde, and down to Gare de Montparnasse. It's often-said, but chapeau to the pros for what they do on the final day of the Tour de France - the Champs is steep and its cobbles rough; I really wouldn't fancy racing round that for an hour or so.

I managed a quick celebratory glass of champagne with the boys at a delightful little restaurant at Montparnasse, and then it was onto the TGV for a couple of hours to Rennes, and from there a few stops to Lamballe, the nearest station to our house in Brittany. The TGV journey was remarkable only for the facts that I had an entire compartment to myself and my bike, which felt incredibly restful and rejuvenating after the previous days of activity, and that the train conductor was a track cyclist who rode for France in the 1996 Olympics. He also knew the small town near our house, so we had a lovely little mixed-language chat. He was a genuinely Nice Bloke.

From Lamballe came Bike Part 2 for the day, the 40 km ride from Lamballe to Ploeuc. I'd envisaged this being a lovely little warm-down ride through bucolic Breton surroundings, liberated from the responsibility of being part of a group. It turned out to be not quite like that - it was certainly bucolic, but another headwind, and failure to refill my water bottle at any point in the afternoon meant it was damned hard work, 90 minutes of damned hard work in fact. My compensations were rich however - Mrs K knows my post-match routine very well by now, and had laid out for me, bless her, in order, a chilled For Goodness Shakes, a cold beer, smoked salmon blinis, a hot bath, sausage and lentil stew, and a nice Merlot. My contentment knew no bounds.

So 12 days on from finishing the ride, reflections. Well, overall it was great. Seeing new places, riding both intimately in a group but also doing extended stretches alone, the craic associated with reflecting on the day's events, the re-discovery of the immature humour that can be derived from near-constant belching and farting (it's not a sad man-thing dear reader, just the effect that a carb-rich diet and extended periods of exercise have on the gut), and the slightly pious knowledge that what you're doing has helped raise a few quid, which in turn might make a few lives better, all combine to make it an event that really imprints itself on your stock of stored and shared experiences.

What else - well, if I were to do something similar again I might go to even more trouble with the ground rules than I did this time. Groups almost inevitably proceed at different speeds, and a greater understanding how that would be managed out on the road would probably prevent frustrations arising throughout the group. Either that or make sure everyone's evenly matched, but that can be tricky to achieve. Also, when choosing places to stop for the night, don't disregard how you're going to feed yourselves. What I mean by that is check out where the hotel, B&B, whatever, is in relation to the nearest town, restaurant etc. Having nowhere to eat nearby can be a real balls-ache. Another lesson learned is really confirmation of something that worked well this time - route planning. Whether you use maps, GPSs or route sheets out on the road, they're only as good as the effort that has gone into planning the route in the first place, and ours worked well I thought - plenty of back roads, particularly in France, but not so many that navigation became a faff.

The over-riding feeling I'm left with, even two weeks on, is that of an appetite whetted. I've decided that I love touring, just like I love blasting up and down mountains, and I'd love to take to the bike for a full fortnight or more, but possibly averaging fewer miles each day, giving more time to stop off at places and really enjoy them. I'd like to think I won't have to wait till I'm retired to do that, but who knows? In the meantime, normal service will resume on here, but I also need to think about where this blog is going to go now that the Monster, the Marathon, the Duathlon and La Manche have all been completed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Tweets by @skinsalive